Fossils found in Argentina of a ferocious dinosaur with a huge head covered in bumps and crests reminiscent of a gargoyle are providing insight into the evolution of some of Earth's biggest predatory dinosaurs including a curious trend toward puny arms.
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Scientists said on Thursday (Jul 7) they discovered in northern Patagonia extensive skeletal remains of a previously unknown species called Meraxes gigas, including one of the most complete skulls of a large meat-eating dinosaur ever unearthed. Meraxes, which lived about 90 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, was roughly 11-12 metres long and weighed about 4 metric tonnes.
All meat-eating dinosaurs belonged to a bipedal assemblage called theropods. Meraxes was a member of a theropod lineage called carcharodontosaurs - the so-called shark-toothed dinosaurs - that included the even-larger Giganotosaurus, also from Patagonia, and Carcharodontosaurus, from Africa.
The Meraxes skull measured more than 127cm long, according to paleontologist Juan Ignacio Canale of the Argentine research agency CONICET at the Ernesto Bachmann Paleontological Museum, lead author of the study published in the journal Current Biology.
"Many of the bones of the face and skull roof were covered with bumps, ridges and furrows, giving it a gnarly appearance like a medieval gargoyle," said University of Minnesota paleontologist and study co-author Pete Makovicky.
Meraxes, named after a dragon from the Song of Ice and Fire fiction series that inspired the TV show Game of Thrones, possessed strong jaws studded with 15cm serrated teeth and the largest foot claws of any of the big theropods.
"A terrifying sight," said paleontologist and study co-author Sebastián Apesteguía of CONICET and the Felix de Azara Foundation.